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President Mahesh Daas Investiture Speech

The Great Banyan Tree

  • 02/06/2020


  • BAC News


Welcome to you all! Thank you for joining us in person and online from all corners of the world today!

Thank you, Chair Richard Martini, Vice-Chair Judy Nitsch and all of our tremendous trustees! Your incredible generosity, trust and support have been the wind in my sails!

Thank you, President Neeli Bendapudi for your incredibly kind and personal introduction.

Madhavi, my beloved wife, without your partnership, I wouldn't be standing here today or accomplishing as much in my life and career. Thank you.

To my daughter Charmi, son Chirag and our mini poodle Master Yoda, thank you for reminding me not to take myself too seriously, nudging me to be cool, and for making it clear to me it is your generation and the subsequent ones we should all be mindful of.

My mother Jhansi and my sister Veni and family are watching this event live in India, and my late father Kabir is watching this special moment from the heavens. I thank them for their unconditional love and wisdom to raise our family from modest beginnings to prosperity.

Mayor Walsh, representatives of our Great Commonwealth, heads of the professional organizations, and members of the building industries and trades, this is an unprecedented confluence of diverse leaders in one place! Thank you for the historic proclamations!

Thank you to the students, faculty and staff for your kind comments and warm wishes. I am deeply touched by your love for our College. You inspire me!

Thank you to our incredible inauguration committee who have made this beautiful ceremony possible.

I extend a warm welcome to the delegates and colleagues who have arrived here from all corners of the world from Arizona to Chile.

A special shout out to my friends from the University of Pennsylvania's Executive Doctorate program in Higher Education Management who are here today in large numbers! One of them equipped me with a magic wand and a crystal ball as a welcome gift. I use them regularly. Thank you!

One of my non-academic friends earlier told me this ceremony feels pretty much like a Monsoon Wedding in India, complete with colorful clothes, music, and a procession, except we have snow instead of torrential rain! In the spirit of monsoon wedding, let me say a few words in this Great Hall in my mother tongue, Telugu. Mee andariki naa hrudaya poorvaka krutajnatalu, subhaakamkshalu, which translates to "My heartfelt thanks and best wishes to you all!"

The Cradle of Liberty

It is an extraordinary honor to address you as the eighth president of The Boston Architectural College, sharing this festive moment in The Great Hall of Faneuil Hall on the Freedom Trail, where the likes of Samuel Adams, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone and other abolitionists and suffragists stood and delivered landmark speeches on issues changing the course of our country. This is The Great Hall echoing the voices of George Washington, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama and other leaders in both American and global politics. As The Boston Architectural College community comes together today, I stand in this Cradle of Liberty to celebrate how the BAC fulfills an important mission to diversify the design professions, champions social justice, and serves as a model for the future.

On a beautiful evening this September I went on a memorable boat ride with 60 alumni for two hours on the Charles River. As I noted then, we were all literally in the same boat! They all had a captive audience of one, me! I listened to their individual stories, all of which added up to a larger narrative of the College. What I heard were descriptions of an institution unlike any I have known. It was a moment of enlightenment for me, when the story of the BAC first became evident, and for this I thank them. Many of those who were on the boat with me then are in the audience today. I hope to do them justice as I share with you the story of the BAC in three acts. The way to get into the story is by way of a metaphor from my personal experience to help us imagine the unique purpose, extraordinary form and ingenious structure of our College.

The Great Banyan Tree

Where I grew up in India the landscape is punctuated by certain enormous trees, members of the fig family, called banyan trees, one of which is represented on today's program booklet. The largest such tree, called the Great Banyan Tree, lives near Kolkata. It is estimated to have taken root around the year 1769 AD, just a couple of decades after the birth of Faneuil Hall. In the 250 years of its existence, this tree has grown to be half-a-kilometer wide, ten-stories tall, and cover 3.5 acres or 152,000 square feet of land. Its massive limbs are supported by craggy prop roots that became trunks. These prop roots start out as slender aerial threads and descend onto pockets of decaying leaves and rich soil to eventually thicken and become trunks. No wonder the Great Banyan tree's 3600 prop roots give it the appearance of a forest. Its leaves are very architectural. They start out bronzy and hairy and eventually turn green much like the copper roofs of Boston. A banyan tree always supports a great diversity of life like an inclusive club where all are welcome. Birds, bats, monkeys, owls, dogs, mice, squirrels, children, lovers, gurus and yogis could all find a sense of belonging in the micro-ecosystem of banyan trees! A banyan tree is like a collage! When I began learning more and more about the BAC, it reminded me of the Great Banyan Tree. Let me describe in three acts why the BAC reminds me of a banyan tree.

The Story of the BAC in Three Acts

Much like the Great Banyan Tree, the BAC found its start as a small seed on Somerset Street 130 years ago and eventually took root in the Back Bay. It was a place where they could converse and educate not only each other, but also what the archival documents refer to as "poor draughtsmen" or PDs. These PDs had no access to the privileged architectural education in Europe or among the handful of architecture programs in the United States. In addition to the PDs, the Club's Free Atelier attracted immigrants or sons of immigrants from many nations. The Chicago Architectural Club and the New York Architectural League were the BAC's contemporaries. While those clubs never moved past their largely social mission, the BAC had something special going for it: its inclusiveness relative to its time, its educational mission, and its progressive leadership. Clubs are usually exclusionary and elitist. Not this one. This was the Boston Architectural UNCLUB which, much like a banyan tree, turned the notion of a club inside out. And all through its existence, the spirit of a true educational community stood out. In many ways, the college was, and still is, a manifestation of the entire Boston architecture and design community coming together to educate the future leaders of our professions.


Exactly 75 years ago this month, the Club grew further, spreading its limbs and prop roots across the city to became a Center delivering more formal programs in architecture and design to men and women. Although it was called the Boston Architectural Center, like a banyan tree, it operated on the edge of the circle of professional education. It was a geometric anomaly, a center not residing in the middle of the circle. The graphic on the cover of today's program represents how this Center served those on the outside, those who otherwise could not enter the circle of privileged education. It was the Boston Architectural Uncenter. Since its inception, the BAC has been at the forefront of design education. Well before the notion of work-integrated education became fashionable, the BAC had already developed its unique and innovative Concurrent Education model. Unlike internship, work study, coop or work-while-you-study models, in our Concurrent Education model students are educated by simultaneously and continually immersing themselves in fulltime practice and academia. The students' work in firms is assessed by our faculty using special frameworks and feedback is also provided to their employers. Also, thanks to the steady income they receive, a majority of our students are able to offset their tuition costs and reduce incurring the kinds of excessive debt their peers accrue at other institutions, empowering our students with more degrees of freedom to chart their career paths. Through the leadership of our former president Ted Landsmark, who is here with us today, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards has developed their Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure program based on our Concurrent Education model, which allows architecture students to be potentially licensed upon graduation. Among other innovations, we have pioneered the first online, accredited Master of Architecture program, which continues to be a growing and thriving program. Our innovative education model empowers and catapults our diverse students into the inner circles of design professions.


As a natural progression of moving from an informal social organization to a professional institution offering many programs, the Center became a College in 2006. Boston literally and figuratively serves as our campus, and our strength. Our students are concurrently educated in classrooms and studios in the Back Bay, and in as many as 81 professional firms in the greater Boston area right now. Through the BAC's Gateway program, we also partner with local communities to address multidimensional social problems. If we look at the data from the last 15 years, 1672 firms and nonprofit organizations have employed our students. That is an astounding number by any measure, and all the more so for a small independent college. Those nearly seventeen hundred prop roots make us the Great Banyan Tree of Boston.

Some of our students are also teachers by virtue of their prior education or experience. Some of our faculty and staff are also our students. Some of our staff are also our teachers. Many of our teachers are practitioners and employers of our students. Unlike at virtually any other institution, our people do not neatly fit into any one category or class. They wear multiple hats as easily as, well, wearing and changing a hat! This rich tapestry of people, roles and responsibilities blending into each other reminds me of a COLLAGE similar to the rich mélange of life harbored by a banyan tree, making it resilient. This prompted me to wonder if our College is in fact a COLLAGE! The Boston Architectural COLLAGE. The intrinsic complexity and resilience of being a COLLAGE is another part of our secret sauce that allows us to do what other institutions might find nearly impossible, which is to deliver scalable, accessible, affordable, inclusive and concurrent design education to diverse students.


I have promised you three acts, but allow me to offer you one more, a fourth. Let me give you a glimpse of what I see beckoning us in the future. What I would like to share with you is not a prediction, but a vision. History makes it clear to us it is impossible to predict the future, as predictions have a way of changing the very events they seek to forecast. Architects and designers are not in the predictions and prophesies business. We do, however, envision as it is the only way to rally behind and construct a bold and desirable future.

So, during the last five months, we have gathered our people and held a series of facilitated conversations to understand who we are, how to build a team of teams embodying our values, and to shape a vision for the future of the BAC. Recently, we held the "BAC to the Future" retreat to collectively imagine our future. What has been emerging as a result of all of these conversations is a great vision of a fourth act building on the previous three acts of the BAC.

  • We envision delivering on our educational mission of diversity and inclusion to help our students fully actualize their potential without boundaries.
  • We envision a College as a global network, a cloud canopy with virtual aerial roots meeting the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the inconvenient and unconventional students wherever they live in the world.
  • We envision an articulated network of seamless flows propelling students from K-12 systems, community colleges, and universities into design education.
  • We envision an institution becoming an epicenter for cutting edge thought leadership and technological innovation to diversify and drive the design professions forward.
  • And we envision a time when the BAC's educational innovations become models to be emulated across the higher education spectrum.
  • We envision a world where design becomes an issue of literacy and design thinking becomes a basic skill for all to build a sustainable, thriving and resilient society. 

In another 120 years, in the year 2139 AD, there will still be standing this Great Hall at Faneuil Hall in the Great City of Boston, if climate change does not alter my script. We envision the BAC celebrating its 250th birthday as the Great Banyan Tree of Boston. 

I have learned in my five months here how amazingly the BAC lives in a lot of hearts, more hearts than I could count. You are our thousands of prop roots. We are truly Boston's Architectural College, Boston's Great Banyan Tree, always striving for excellence, inclusion, and access for all. Please join me in embarking on a great journey together on a figurative boat ride "BAC to the Future." 

Thank you very much!